I have this nagging feeling deep in the back of my mind that our national trauma on September 11, 2001 is still THE dominant factor in many of our decisions. For almost 8 years now, we’ve been self-medicating ourselves in various ways, so we don’t have to deal directly with our sense of insecurity and certainly so we don’t have to talk about what we really need to do to feel safe in the 21st century. Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more evident today that many of these attempts at comforting ourselves after the trauma are actually self-destructive. I think most of us would agree that the trauma will stay with us the rest of our lives, but I think most would also agree that we might be healthier as individuals and as a nation if we become more aware of our lingering anxieties as we deal with our existing and emerging dilemmas.
You’re probably scratching your head now, trying to figure out why I think we’re still suffering from the September 11 trauma. No, I don’t have statistics for these points…these are just feelings I have about some past events and current trends that may or may not be partially affected by a residual fear from the 2001 attacks.
Many of us turn to food when we need comfort…that’s why most people can readily identify certain foods that they consider to be ‘comfort food.’ Many of these items are high in fat and low in nutrition…and both adult and childhood obesity rates have increased rapidly since 2001.
We’re comforted also by our ‘stuff’…our in-home entertainment options are amazing…our electronics give us the illusion of being connected without the inconvenience of actually getting together…shopping at malls, outlets and online has become a significant American pass-time…we have so much ‘stuff’ that the self-storage industry has grown dramatically. After 9/11, we were encouraged to “go shopping” and that seems to have accelerated our transition from a production economy to a consumption economy.
Many people have decided they needed larger houses and larger SUVs and trucks…I think to a certain extent because they make us feel safer and they give us an illusion of well-being. The way this plays out is regional, I know, but most of these purchases were made on credit. Now that the credit bubble has burst, thousands of families are far less secure than before and our whole economy is crippled by a lack of job mobility. In addition, our national debt is soaring as we rescue companies that are ‘too big to let fail’ and as we try to comfort ourselves in the belief that the stock market can somehow pull us out of a societal credit cravings.
Our ‘comfort’ toll is probably greatest in terms of our two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq…and decreased international goodwill. Too few of our voices questioned the goals or strategies of our global reactions to 9/11. I know many may strongly disagree or even take offense, but I feel we as a nation got the military reaction we wanted. In a sense, we closed our eyes, held our noses and plugged our ears…with devastating consequences in lost lives, compromised values and long-term ethical commitments. Today a cry of outrage is being heard, but I fear there is not much moral high-ground left.
I don’t know with any certainty that any correlation exist between our 2001 trauma and these other observable troubles. I have a feeling though that we’ve just been going-along without asking any self-reflective questions. It seems to me that we’ve inflated some significant ‘comfort bubbles’ during the past several years. Subsequently, I believe we need to ask ourselves some tough questions in the midst of many of our personal and public decisions. How much of a driving force is our desire for a restored sense of safety? What are the long-term consequences of our current comfort-based decisions? How can we participate today in ending the devastation of September 11?